Air travel with scleral lenses? Yes, but...
It's harder for us patients than you think! Sclerals are so much more involved than conventional contact lenses.
And for us scleral lens users, we're faced with a conundrum: We NEED our lenses just to navigate the airports, or to keep our eyes safe and comfortable in flight, but figuring out all the details, from handling our lenses in public places to bringing all the solutions we need for trip, can be intimidating.
So many questions!
"I've heard I can't take hydrogen peroxide. What can I use instead?"
"I can't imagine trying to take my lenses out in a cramped lavatory!"
"What should I put in my carry-on, versus my checked bag?"
"Do I leave my lenses in? Will I be able to nap?"
"I wish I could buy my solutions when I get there, but most of the things I need are only sold online!"
"I even had a doctor's letter. Why did they confiscate my solutions in London Heathrow?"
"Should I remove my lenses at the airport before I board?"
"There's no 2oz size Unique pH available right now. What I can bring instead, that will be under the 3.4oz TSA limit?"
"Will I be able to keep my lenses in during the whole flight? What if I have to take them out? What if my flight gets delayed?"
And many more!
These are the types of things scleral lens users struggle with that just don't affect most contact lens users the same way. You might be surprised to know the extent to which people avoid air travel, or stress about it, because there are so many unknowns.
Even just relatively short flights - say the one to five hour typical domestic US flights - can be challenging. Do I leave my lenses in for the whole flight? What if I want to nap? What if I fall asleep? Will my lenses dry out if I wear them for the whole flight? Can I "refresh" them safely at the airport when I arrive? Will I be able to see well enough to drive a rental car?
Furthermore, TSA rule enforcement, and allowances for the medical exemptions, are not consistently enforced. Some users always breeze through security, others get their solutions confiscated. It's important to know not only what the rules are, but what the fallback plan will be if the unexpected happens.
International travel complications
International travel is particularly challenging.
I had a customer a year or so ago who was trying to go from New York to Italy. She is completely dependent on her sclerals for vision. She couldn't take everything she needed in a carry-on, and didn't want to risk putting it all in checked baggage. We arranged to send everything she needed to her destination well ahead of her trip. She did everything right, even provided the recipient with a letter from her doctor. In the end, the courier service refused to release the goods (they were all consumer products, nothing restricted) to the designated recipient without a letter from an Italian doctor. She ended up canceling her trip. Who would have imagined!
On the other hand, I have another customer who successfully navigated going on safari in Tanzania through meticulous planning! Check out her blog, it's pretty amazing.
What YOU can do for your patients:
1. Encourage them that travel IS possible, but planning helps.
Patients with advanced corneal diseases have a lot of reasons to be cautious about their eyes, and it has a dampening effect on their lifestyle. Your patient may need encouragement that they've got this - all they need is some careful planning!
2. Make sure they have more than one acceptable option for both salines and cleaning solutions.
The scleral lens world has been plagued with product shortages, backorders and discontinuations. When your patient can't get the solution you recommended, or if they can't get it in the size that they need for travel purposes, they need options.
3. Send them to our user guide to help them plan.
We have a brand new travel guide page for scleral lens users!
This page includes:
- up-to-date TSA rules - both standard, and medical exemption
- lists of FDA-compliant solutions
- cautions about the different rules when traveling internationally.
- advice about planning ahead for insertion and removal needs
Please have a look, and refer your patients! And of course, if you have any additional tips or suggestions for our page, please let us know.